Personal Watercraft Operation and Regulations
A personal watercraft (PWC) is defined as a type of motorboat which is specifically designed to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing, or kneeling ON the vessel rather than INSIDE the vessel. The term PWC includes jet skis, wet bikes, etc. Any person being towed by a PWC is considered an occupant of the PWC, and is required to wear a life jacket.
Required Safety Equipment for Personal Watercraft (PWC)
All equipment requirements for regular motorboats also apply to PWC. In addition to those requirements:
- each occupant must wear a USCG approved wearable PFD;
- if the PWC is equipped with a cut-off or kill switch, it must be attached to the operator or operator's clothing.
- inflatable life jackets are NOT approved for use on PWC.
Operation of Your Personal Watercraft
NOTE: Children under 13 are specifically prohibited from operating a PWC unless accompanied on board by a person at least 18 years of age who can lawfully operate the PWC.
All operational rules for regular motorboats also apply to PWC. In addition to those requirements, it is unlawful for any person to:
- operate PWC at night (sunset until sunrise);
- operate PWC within 50 feet of another PWC, motorboat, vessel, platform, person, object, or shore except at headway speed without creating a swell or wake (Headway speed = Slow, idle speed, or speed only fast enough to maintain steerage); and
- operate a PWC and jump the wake of another vessel recklessly or unnecessarily close.
It is unlawful for any person to:
- Operate at a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and prudent or greater than will permit him to bring such boat to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.
- Operate so as to cause a hazardous wake or wash.
- Operate in a circular course around any other boat or PWC occupied by a person engaged in fishing, waterskiing, or similar activity.
- Moor or attach to any buoy, beacon, light marker, stake, flag or other aid to safe operation, or to move, remove, displace, tamper with, damage or destroy the same.
- Anchor in the traveled portion of any river or channel so as to prevent, impede, or interfere with safe passage of any other boat through the same area.
- Operate within an area designated as bathing, fishing, swimming, or otherwise restricted.
- Operate within designated "no wake" area except at headway speed without creating a swell or wake.
- Engage in water skiing, surfboarding or other similar activity between the hours of ½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise; provided that this shall not apply to vessels used in recognized water ski tournaments, competitions, exhibitions or trials, provided that the water area is adequately lighted.
- Operate while intoxicated (loss of mental or physical faculties, or blood alcohol content of .08 or higher). First conviction punishable by a fine not to exceed $2,000, confinement in jail not to exceed 180 days or both; second conviction punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000, confinement not to exceed one year or both; third conviction punishable by a fine not to exceed $10,000, imprisonment for not more than 10 years or less than 2 years. **Failure to submit a specimen to determine blood alcohol content may result in suspension of your driver's license.
- Operate any vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane or similar device, in a willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property. (Violation of this provision shall be punishable, upon conviction, by a fine of not less than $200 nor more than $2,000 or by confinement in jail not to exceed 180 days or both.)
- Swim or dive within two hundred yards of any sight-seeing or excursion boat except for maintenance purposes or unless within an enclosed area.
- Operate within 50 feet of a "Diver Down Flag" or operate a boat within 150 feet of a "Diver Down Flag" except at Headway/Steerage Speed.
- Fail to comply with the U.S. Coast Guard Inland Rules of the Road.
To learn these “rules of the road”, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department strongly recommends persons of all ages enroll in a Boater Education course. Excellent courses are available from many sources to help hone your boating skills, including online courses, Coast Guard Auxiliary courses, Power Squadron courses, and others. To complete the Mandatory Boater Education course for the State of Texas (required for certain operators as noted below), check our schedule of courses or see more information about online Boater Education Courses available on this website.